As clouds hover over North and South Korea, what better time for a ballet to turn conflict into comedy? And who could do it better than Texas Ballet Theater with artistic director Ben Stevenson’s hilarious parody called The Nutty Nutcracker, which was presented for one performance on Sunday night.
Instead of Chinese brandishing scimitar and pole in the second act, two warriors representing North and South Korea go at each other in graceful combat.
But we are getting ahead of the story. When the curtain rises we behold the familiar glorious background of 1885 Prague. Instead of the stunning bows, sequins, rustles and corsets worn by guests as they wend their way to the Stahlbaums’ Christmas Eve party, in today’s world it’s jeans and T-shirt, and a weary group of airline passengers stumbling though security to the tune of “Let’s Fly with Me.” As for the Stahlbaums, they have morphed into the yellow-skinned Simpson family and the grandfather is a weed-smoking Willie Nelson.
In no time, the guests are pushing, shoving, stumbling and gyrating, and being saved from having their heads cut off by virtue of a generous amount of weed. For among the guests are the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres, exercise guru Richard Simmons in tiny shorts and fuzzy hair, and a stray from The Nutcracker, Clara. The nutcracker—disdained by everyone who is offered it—does get his head cut off.
The magician Drosselmeyer turns out to be John Travolta of Saturday Night Fever, who in white pants, black vest and white jacket slinks and shakes to “Staying Alive.” Simmons—so wired he can can’t contain himself—even upstages both Travolta and Lady Gaga by spinning on the ground and wildly tossing his head.
In the gloomy midnight ballroom where Toy Soldiers and huge Mice surround Clara/Lisa, the Nutcracker turns out to be a pitcher for the Texas Rangers, and his Toy Soldiers the Rangers. He knocks off his rival from the New York Yankees (to the delighted boos of the audience) with a well-aimed cannon. The Rangers go after the Mice (The Dallas Cowboys) swinging their bats.
Who better to emerge from the Land of the Snow than Sarah Palin? In red jacket and toothy grin, she hones in on Obama, and the battle begins in earnest.
It has its comic moments, but drags on until the Snowflakes whirl about, with several really beefy men in the ranks. A menacing river of oil covers the silver blue sleigh as it makes its way to the Kingdom of Sweets.
All the usual characters are in the Kingdom, with Oprah acting as the mistress of ceremonies. In the Spanish variation we find the Glee singers; in the Arabian variation, Prince Williams and Kate. Kate flouts her 18-carat sapphire engagement ring (and undies embroidered with the emblem of Great Britain) as the Prince carries her aloft. The rotund Pillsbury Dough Boy shoots up into the air in the Russian section and the Chinese (that is Korean) foes cartwheel over each other with pole and scimitar.
It gets better. To the beautiful music of the Waltz of the Flowers, a husband in straggly long hair, baseball cap and torn T-shirt carts his overweight wife along the aisles of Wal-Mart, mingling with a crowd of truly tacky-looking shoppers. Needless to say, they make mincemeat of the waltz.
As the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince, Betsy McBride and Lucas Priolo start out with a lovely pas de deux, only to have a second Sugar Plum butt in. The Prince is bewildered; the original Sugar Plum outraged. Soon there is yet a third Sugar Plum, and then a fourth, jostling to see who can get the Prince to spin her.
If four aren’t enough, a fat Sugar Plum (none other than Stevenson) lumbers in with a baleful look and an attitude that says, “get lost, you others, the Prince is mine.” When beauty is at odds with weight, beauty hasn’t a chance.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Dance Magazine and Pointe Magazine.
The regular Nutcracker continues Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m., at Bass Performance Hall, Fourth and Commerce streets, Fort Worth. $19-$99. Call 877-828-9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org.